Abueva posed the challenge of modernism to his mentor Tolentino and, through his prolific and energetic work, significantly tilted the balance in favor of modernism. After his studies at UP School of Fine Arts, under the Pura Villanueva Kalaw scholarship, Abueva took up his Masters’ studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan on a Fulbright Smith Mundt grant and further trained in sculpture and ceramics at the University of Kansas.
It was in the 1950s that he firmly established his reputation as the pioneering modernist in sculpture.
His reputation as a master capable of crafting classic pieces from different materials began when he burst into the country's art scene in the '50s with "The Kiss of Judas," which he fashioned out of a single adobe block to symbolize betrayal.
He went on to earn the description as a "pioneering modernist in sculpture" and in 1976, he became the youngest to be conferred the National Artist award. His versatility in medium and expression eludes facile categorization.